Boss sleeps with secretary: It’s a cliché that's pretty much old as television itself. Thus when Mad Men's Don Draper, drunk as a skunk, grabbed his secretary’s hand last night and pulled her in for a kiss, I wanted him to be rejected immediately. So far this season, we’ve seen Don philander between women, but his usual mojo had yet to make an appearance. It just wouldn’t be like Mad Men, I told myself, to let him have this one. Yet Don got his girl, and I was briefly disappointed.
But leave it to Mad Men, a show that's off to a brilliant convention-bending fourth-season start, to take that old cliché and make it feel new. For there was no triumph in Don’s face when he finished. He was still a sad old man, deflated on his couch and, in the words of his other underlings, “pathetic.” And the act itself didn’t herald the beginning of a fiery, secret courtship, but another chance for Don to keep acting like a stubborn little boy. In a moment of weakness, he did something he regretted—but rather than own up to his mistake, he pretended like nothing happened. He even attempted to smooth things over with a hefty Christmas bonus. The look on her face went from joy to confusion to horror, just as the expressions of the two-piece swimsuit clients’ did when Don threw his childish tantrum in last week's season premiere. Don has completely forgotten how to earn respect, and this disastrous boss-boinks-secretary scenario was the perfect way to show it.
Always one to sulk in Don’s shadow, Peggy faced her own struggles with convention. Her boyfriend was eager to take their relationship to the next level (boning), and Freddy Rumsen—who returned last night after sobering up in the aftermath of last year's pants-wetting incident—shoved his own ideas about women in her face. She fought off her boyfriend’s advances and put Freddy in his place, only to admit that she didn’t want to be alone come New Year’s Eve. It seems she is able to challenge specific people’s expectations, but can’t dodge those that are deeply rooted in the world around her. In order to reconcile this illogical desire (which is ironic, given it’s a lot like the ones she writes for ad campaigns all the time), she has to make concessions: Peggy slept with her boyfriend and apologized to Freddy. She voluntarily gave in to the cliché.
But not only did “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” find the unexpected in the expected—as it also did with Roger’s resentment to his major suck-up Santa session—it also contained the wildly unexpected and creepy story of Glenn and Sally. Glenn’s crush on Betty was sweet at first, then tragic, and now borders on stalkerish. Why else would he befriend Sally out of nowhere? Well, because Betty is with another man, and if he can’t have her, he’s going to get rid of the Draper family all-together—under the pretense of doing right by Sally. (Or perhaps he’s content with taking second place and marrying Sally some day?)
The beauty of this fourth season so far is in the way it’s taken tumultuous situations, a new agency, and a new family, and made them even more chaotic. I haven’t been this reservation-free excited about Mad Men since season one.
What did you think of Sunday's episode? How are you liking the season so far?